The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. You may have heard this phrase used many times in your life, often describing the highs and lows of organized sports competition. I had the distinct privilege of experiencing both in the span of five days. Hopefully, I can retell my personal account without sounding like a pu**y who is crying about a loss. In this blog I’m trying to tell you exactly what I knew and how I felt about it with no secrets. Having made my way through the initial 32-man elimination tournament of “The Ultimate Fighter 7” by way of highlight-reel knockout on a Sunday, I was choked unconscious in the first round of the single elimination tournament the following Friday. Damn! Now that the series has truly started, I can go back a bit and bring you up to speed. We moved into the fighter’s house on Sunday night. Monday morning the coaches chose teams. Monday night we trained with our team for the very first time. Tuesday we had a “media day” and were quarantined in the 8×14 kitchen of the UFC training center for nearly 12 hours with only takeout food and each other’s conversations. It was good for getting to know each other, but not so good for most else. Wednesday is where my story really begins. We arrived for Team Rampage’s first of two daily practice sessions at 10 a.m., and that morning it was obvious that our coaches wanted to see who we were as athletes. Just as important, they wanted to let us know exactly who they were as coaches and veterans in the sport. After pleasantries, we were informed that today was going to be all conditioning. Mind you, the first fight pick was going to be at noon and Team Forrest was not training until after Forrest made the first pick. We started with a 2-mile run and a 20 minute “active stretch” as a warm-up. Rampage had seven different stations set up for us. Aerodyne (bike) sprints, sprawls, heavy bag boxing, ground-and-pound floor bag, throw dummy lift and slams, heavy-bag power kicks and hard pad work in the cage with Juanito Ibarra. All rounds were for seven minutes each with only 30 seconds to get to the next station. All stations were to be performed at maximum intensity with the coaches yelling for each of us to push harder and harder. In all, we performed 11, seven-minute rounds of hard conditioning and everybody was exhausted. We would’ve kept going until we finished all 14 planned rounds, but it was past noon and Team Forrest was here to make the first pick. None of that made the television broadcast. I don’t believe I was really shown training at all. I do remember watching me read the Bible though, which I didn’t actually have in my hands until just before my fight the next day. Right about this time, we on Team Rampage realized that one of us was about to fight in two days, and our opponents were standing before us fed, fresh and smiling. I was the first choice. Evidently, Team Forrest felt that I was one of the biggest threats in the bracket and wanted to get me out of there quickly. I’ll take that as a compliment. When my name was called, I was psyched! I love to fight. I absolutely love it. And I was confident that I would win this tournament. That morning, I left practice at 186 pounds. I had arrived at 195. Getting home, I began eating and re-hydrating all the fluids and electrolytes I had lost during the first training session, then took a nap. Knowing that I was weighing-in in 20 hours and fighting in 40, I planned on re-hydrating constantly and relaxing until the fight, allowing my body every opportunity to begin the recovery process. Walking back into practice at 5 o’clock that night I was on-weight and planned on some light stretching and maybe some jump rope. Quinton told me to get on the treadmill and run for 20 minutes at 6mph. I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Coach, I’m pretty beat up right now and have to weigh in tomorrow? I usually don’t train at all this close to a fight.” He said, “I know, I just want you to get your blood flowing.” Mind you, I was staring at Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, the freakin’ champion of the whole wide world, and he was telling me how to prepare for a fight. Who the hell was I to argue with his logic, I figured as I laced up my black Nike Shox. Finishing the run, feeling ok, I grabbed a Pedialyte and sat down. Just as my butt hit the seat, Juanito walked up to me and told me to put my sparring gear on. He must be mistaken. I’m fighting in two days, remember? “Rampage just told me to hit a run. I’m spent Juanito. I’m fighting Friday,” I said to him. “I know son. Coach Rampage wants you to get in the ring with him and go over your fight. It’s a mental thing more than anything,” he said. I looked into the cage and there was Rampage, full sparring gear on, shadow boxing. There was the light heavyweight champion of the world. Again, who was I to argue? Getting in the cage, Rampage told Juanito to put seven minutes on the clock for two rounds with a 30-second break. I turned to him and said, “Coach, I’ve been training really hard for weeks, I’m tired. I don’t think I have anything left.” He said, “You need to do this to get ready for your fight. This is for your mind, to react properly in each position.” My mind? The only thing on my mind right then was, “How the Hell am I going to recover from this sh*t?” Fifteen minutes later, we were done. Thankfully, Rampage didn’t try to take my head off or anything, he’s a great training partner actually, but we went at a fight pace with less striking and more grappling. Lots of clinching, wrestling and me getting up off the bottom. Very tiring. I’m a strong guy, but Rampage is huge. I was glad when the second round was finally over. Picking up my water bottle, I hear, “Zach, come up in here and set the timer for 15 minutes.” Zach Lyte was Quinton’s wrestling coach and an accomplished mixed martial artist in his own right. The plan was for Rampage and Zach to alternate taking me down and just as I scrambled up, for the other to shoot back in and take me down again. For 15 minutes with no break. Do you see the comedy in this? I’m laughing again as I write this. Again, I tell both coaches I’m shot, and they tell me, “Don’t worry, we’ll just go light.” Light? It was more like a live-drill pace than a fight pace, but in no way was it light. When that was finally over, the other seven athletes on my team were brought into the cage and told to start in on double legs (takedowns) and make me fight out of it. This time, I say – more to Zach than Quinton, but loud enough for my whole team to hear – “I’m done guys. I’m past my breaking point. I can’t do anymore.” I was physically and mentally exhausted. Zach tells the team to only go 60 percent on me, and I was back fighting off shots and scrambling up off the floor. My teammates saw exactly what was happening to me and half-heartedly performed their takedowns. Great gesture, but it was too late. On one takedown, I fell at 50/50 hips with Matthew Riddle and posted my hand out to start a scramble. In doing that, the fatigue, and the lost focus, I separated my shoulder, tearing the AC ligament and severely damaging my rotator cuff. (An injury which I am still being treated for, but that will come up in a later blog.) Standing up, Juanito asked me if I was ok, as I turned to answer, my left thigh began to violently cramp, quickly working its way from my knee, up to the hip flexor and into my abdominal wall. I dropped down to the floor contorted. Soon Juanito and a Glen, our assigned paramedic began trying to work the cramps out with heat and some implement I had never seen before. Surprisingly, none of this made it to the television screen either. Fast forwarding my story, after eating and drinking at will, I woke up for weigh-ins at 183 pounds. Three pounds below the middleweight class limit and 10 pounds south of the 193 pounds I have woken up at for every other middleweight bout I have contended. “All things are possible to him who believes.” – Mark 9:23 I must have repeated that statement five thousand times, between the weigh-in and actual fight. You see, at no point did I ever question the outcome of the fight. I knew I was going to win. Losing wouldn’t even register in my mind. Even while lying on the floor of the octagon, with two grown men rubbing heating lube on my bare thigh and torso with television cameras catching every sordid detail, I did not question my chances of winning this fight. No way. I competed and fought as hard as I could. That day, I tried my very best to win and lost. I am proud of that. After the fight, during interviews, the producers kept asking me if I blamed Rampage, or my coaches for my loss. I would have loved to have said yes, or to point the finger at someone else, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was my loss. You see, winning and losing is very much like getting a tattoo. Each will tell a story that will last a lifetime, your lifetime. Some stories are great and some suck, but they are all yours. This one is mine alone.